Tajiks to release BBC reporter who still faces trial

DUSHANBE Thu Jul 14, 2011 3:07pm BST

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DUSHANBE (Reuters) - A local BBC reporter detained in Tajikistan on suspicion of belonging to a banned Islamist group will be released from prison later on Thursday, but still faces trial, Tajik Prosecutor-General Sherkhon Salimzoda said.

The British Broadcasting Corporation had been demanding the immediate release of Urinboy Usmonov, who had worked for its Central Asian service for 10 years and was arrested last month.

The BBC had said it had no reason to believe the charge he was a member of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation, an international organisation that says it uses only peaceful methods to achieve its goal of establishing a global caliphate, or theocratic Muslim state.

The Organisation for Security and Coperation in Europe said last week the arrest of Usmonov, who suffers from heart and other health problems, was "an attempt to censor" reporting on sensitive issues, and the journalist should be freed.

"The prosecutors have studied the case of BBC journalist Urinboy Usmonov and come to a conclusion that before the trial he can be released upon signing a written undertaking not to leave the place of his residence," Salimzoda told reporters.

"Usmonov will be released from a pre-trial detention centre this evening," he said. "The president of Tajikistan, esteemed Imomali Rakhmon, has been informed about this move."

The local office of the BBC said Usmonov was no longer being charged with membership of a banned group.

But he is still accused of deliberately not informing the authorities of, or covering up a crime, which is punishable by a fine or up to two years in jail.

He is accused of meeting members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir organisation and not informing security bodies about this.

Tajikistan, an impoverished and predominantly Muslim former Soviet republic of 7.5 million, has launched a crackdown on religious groups and imprisoned 158 people on charges of extremism last year. Many of those jailed were accused of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Tajikistan, which shares a 1,340 km border with Afghanistan, has accused such groups of stoking unrest and has clamped down on their operations. Government troops have been fighting insurgents in the country's east since last September.

(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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